Mexico’s Political Awakening

Vikram K. Chand

From the Helen Kellogg Institute for International Studies

True democracy has been long in coming to Mexico, but citizen rebellion and the work of social leaders helped bring about dramatic changes at the end of the twentieth century. The traditional dominance of the one-party state has yielded to a more democratic structure marked by growing decentralization and the adoption of fairer election rules and procedures.

Vikram Chand examines the role of major institutions in fostering democratization in Mexico during the 1980s and 1990s, offering an understanding of how these changes came about and why they are likely to last. He focuses on three important factors that fostered this transition: the growing participation of the Catholic Church and its lay organizations in politics, the proliferation of non-governmental civic associations dedicated to promoting clean elections, and the emergence of vibrant opposition parties. He particularly highlights the conservative National Action Party, about which little has been written in English.

Chand tells how the rise of a more politically-aware citizenry and the growing power of non-state institutions pressured the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party into adopting electoral reforms, resulting in the first open primary for gubernatorial elections in 1998. Using the state of Chihuahua as a case study, he draws on primary research—including 293 interviews with key figures in the political process—to demonstrate how the mutual interaction of national and regional politics has helped bring about these democratic transitions.

Mexico’s Political Awakening is a “bottom-up” perspective on democratization, correcting analyses which view that process in Mexico as flowing down from the President. It challenges existing theories of democratization by emphasizing the importance of strong social institutions for the development of democracy, and it demonstrates that increases in political participation play a vital role in strengthening those institutions.

Vikram K. Chand is Senior Public Sector Management Specialist, The WorldBank, New Delhi.